Author: Claire Bradnum
You may have heard your friends or colleagues talk about going to a soundbath, or seen people on social media using instruments that intrigued you, setting a scene that was calming and relaxing. Think of those little white bowl-shaped things that people sit beside and “stir”, often with some kind of beautiful water feature behind them, or gongs in a dimly lit room with people lying on the ground. You may have wondered what on earth they were doing. Well, the use of sound in wellbeing has been around for thousands of years but has been gaining in popularity rapidly over the past two decades or so. Fascinating historical discoveries have been coming to light about how our ancestors used sound intentionally. Stonehenge, the pyramids, and giant cathedrals have all been built with the knowledge of how sound affects us as humans.
Research has shown that, through sound, humans synchronise with each other and other living things around us through a phenomenon called entrainment. Science tells us our bodies are constantly vibrating and resonating with the vibrations in the world around us; health has a measurable vibration and so does disease. What’s more, human brainwaves are the rhythms that our neurons make when they are connecting.
Different brainwaves are experienced by humans in different ways, for example, faster brainwaves are experienced as intense concentration, and slower brainwaves are experienced as sleeping. All brainwaves are normal and necessary for healthy brain function. However, the modern brain, subjected to elevated levels of stress, tends to spend an abnormal amount of time in faster brainwave speeds.
The modern brain also has a vast number of distractions available to it at any given time, which make us attempt to go from faster brainwave speeds straight to the slow speed of sleep when we’re so tired we can’t even think anymore. But did you know we can be too tired to sleep properly? Have you ever noticed that you don’t sleep very well after you went to bed really exhausted? For many, this reality is so painful that they avoid it at all costs. We no longer allow our brains the time and space to mull over things, to ponder, or to imagine, which all happens in slower brainwaves. Brain and body (and mind and soul) maintenance also happens at slower brainwave speeds. So, if we don’t give our brains the slower speeds, they’ll just ‘steal’ it: those moments we go into autopilot, like when we’re driving home the same route we’ve driven home for years, only to wonder how we got there, with no memory of the trip at all. We remember getting into the car but not much else. Or when we’re listening to someone tell a story and suddenly think, oh no, I blanked out for a second and now I don’t know how to appropriately react to the end of this story…
How does Sound Therapy work?
A qualified Sound Therapist uses certain instruments to help slow your brainwaves down, by playing them in a particular way whilst you lie back and relax. How? Through the principles of entrainment, as discussed above. The dominant frequencies of the instruments help to slow your brainwaves right down, and to give your brain and body (and mind and soul) the chance to discover the benefits of some slower brainwave frequencies for a while, helping us connect with our inner selves, restore physical health and dissolve physical pain or tension that we hold in our physical bodies. A reflective method is used to enable us to work through emotional challenges in this state, and to explore resistances and limiting beliefs that keep us from physical and emotional resonance.
For people who feel uncomfortable discussing where they find themselves in life, sound therapy is an ideal way to work through issues without having to speak about them. The role of the sound therapist is to prepare an appropriate environment for a client to process their issues and to hold space for the client whilst they lie down, listen to the sounds being played, go down into a slower brainwave state, beyond where anxiety and emotion can reach, and work out how to solve their own affairs. The sound therapist is there to facilitate this process and support the client as they go on this personal journey, holding up a “mirror” sometimes as the client needs but without ever diagnosing or interpreting any part of it.
One to one sound therapy sessions enable a person to work through something specific on their own, supported individually by their sound therapist in a bespoke and personal manner, and group sound therapy sessions in the form of soundbaths or gongbaths, involve less personal interaction with a sound therapist, but can still be very beneficial. Some group sound therapy sessions are interactive and allow the participants to play the instruments themselves in a support group style session, which again, involves no talking or very little talking but can be very powerful.
Sound therapy can be extremely effective, even in situations where people do not realise they have anything to process. Working as a sound therapist myself, I have witnessed a client who attended a group session as a fun activity to take part in with friends and did not realise they had anything to work through, sit up at the end of the session and say they feel like a new person; while they were listening to the instruments and through the “intervention” of the sound, they were able to let go of a grudge they had held for 65 years. If you are looking to work through an issue, need to slow down your brainwaves, or are just looking for something new to experience, sound therapy might be for you.
Claire Bradnum has been training with the British Academy of Sound Therapy since 2020, working towards a Higher Diploma in Sound Therapy, combining a Practitioner Diploma in Sound Therapy and a Group Sound Therapy Diploma.